Listings: Spots for Seafood | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader
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Seafood Spots

Big & Little's

939 N. Orleans | 312-943-0000

$

LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY  | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED | cash only

Gary "Big" Strauss and Tony "Little" Alessandro put lots of thought—and value—into the food they serve in a space that used to house a popular Pakistani cabbie joint. Justly famous are foie gras French fries, a deeply browned bed of crisp strips capped with slices of unctuous duck liver and drizzled with just-rendered foie fat, for only $12. There are also fries with shaved black truffles and sea salt. The crab tostada, made with freshly cracked snow crab, scallions, and a spritz of lime, is alive with flavor. Fish tacos prove that with careful grilling and a mildly piquant "special sauce" (ingredients hush-hush, of course) even tilapia can be cajoled into tastiness. For fish and chips, thick slabs of cod are swathed in a bready coating, as are substantial shrimps resembling miniature corndogs. Limited vegetable offerings might include a portobello sandwich and pineapple-beet as well as kidney bean salads, the latter flecked with tarragon. Hamburger is ground daily, hand-shaped and cooked to order, and they'll serve it at your preferred degree of doneness, which is rare (sorry) among burger emporia. With limited seating for customers, Big & Little's is mobbed at lunchtime, so come early; you can carry out, but you really should eat this food (particularly foie gras) as soon as it comes off the heat. —David Hammond

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

700 E. Grand | 312-252-4867

$$$

Lunch, Dinner: seven days | Open Late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Paramount Pictures comes to Navy Pier, bringing along a lot of shrimp. There are Dumb Luck Coconut Shrimp (with Cajun marmalade), Mama Blue's Southern Charmed Fried Shrimp (with coleslaw and fries), and Forrest's Shrimp Catch Net (steamed in beer and served with veggies). Shrimp-free salads, sandwiches, and smoothies are also available. The kid-friendly restaurant is done up like a bayou shrimp shack, with galvanized buckets of paper towels and seasonings on the picnic tables. A souvenir shop near the entrance sells "Run Forrest Run" ball caps and other Gumpian paraphernalia. —Martha Bayne

Calumet Fisheries

3259 E. 95th | 773-933-9855

$

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

In a 1998 Reader story, Calumet Fisheries' Hector Morales lamented the decline in business that came with the death of the steel industry on the southeast side. But the tiny shack at the foot of the 95th Street Bridge is still smoking its own chubs, trout, and salmon steaks, heads, and collars over oak logs. These creatures remain moist after smoking, having been brined overnight. The vulnerable constitution of shrimp is the best endorsement of this process, remaining juicy and intensely smoky—though the monsters come dear. Polyglot sailors still weigh in for fried catfish when they dock, and the fresh, crispy breaded aquatic life—frog's legs, shrimp, scallops, and smelts—are expressions of maritime rhapsody, like the sea spray that escapes the breaded crust of a juicy fried oyster. The dramatic location—it's where Elwood jumped the drawbridge in the Bluesmobile—is an ideal spot to clamber down to the river's edge with an order of deep-fried ocean critters and watch ships chug by. —Mike Sula

Cape Cod Room

140 E. Walton | 312-787-2200

$$$$

Dinner: seven days

Neither the menu nor the decor at this long-standing seafood restaurant has changed much since it opened in 1933. The rustic yet refined room inside the Drake Hotel still features red-checkered tablecloths, weather vanes, and stuffed fish. The menu includes standard appetizers like New England clam chowder, oysters Rockefeller, and raw oysters, along with the famous Bookbinder Red Snapper Soup served with a shot of sherry. Most fish dishes stick to classic preparations—Dover sole meuniere, for example, is filleted tableside. Service is always attentive and professional. —Laura Levy Shatkin

La Cazuela Mariscos

6922 N. Clark | 773-338-5425

$$

Lunch, Dinner: seven days | byo

This apricot-walled Mexican seafood place along a strip of taquerias on North Clark has a menu that goes beyond standard tacos and burritos. To start there are mejillones al mojo de ajo y vino (mussels in garlic and wine sauce) and tostadas de pulpo (octopus tostadas). The seven seas soup comes chock-full of shrimp, crab, clams, octopus, fish, calamari, and snails. There's also a variety of shrimp preparations, including delectably spicy shrimp diablo. Whole fish offerings include deep-fried catfish and red snapper, which come with salad, rice, and plenty of lime wedges. Tacos, burritos, and tostadas are served with a variety of fillings: marinated skirt steak, barbecued pork, chorizo, chicken, lengua. Though you can BYO, there's a limit of six beers per table. A pleasant little patio is out back. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Davis Street Fishmarket

501 Davis, Evanston | 847-869-3474

$$$

LUNCH: sunday, tuesday-saturday; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11

Although it's undeniably popular, we found this casual Evanston seafood place uneven at best. The raw oysters were fine, and a delicately seasoned seafood-and-corn chowder was superb. The soft-shell crab (available only seasonally) had a pleasing texture, but the poor creature died in vain—it was drowned by garlic butter. Desserts were ample and edible, especially the pleasantly boozy bread pudding and the key lime pie. The decor here is amiably corny, but on our visit the ambience was marred by classic rock blaring from a tinny sound system. The service was brisk and obliging (our request to have the classic rock turned down was cheerfully accommodated). —Cliff Doerksen

Glenn's Diner

1820 W. Montrose | 773-506-1720

$$

BREAKFAST, lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO

The back wall at Glenn's Diner is decorated with counter-to-ceiling boxes of sugared cereal. Glenn's serves breakfast all day and breakfast specials on weekends, but the real attraction is the fish specials, 16 options a night, priced in the teens and excellently prepared. Fresh fish and cereal isn't a combination that makes sense, exactly, but that's part of the charm: eating here, you feel like you're getting a genuine expression of—well, a peculiar something. A man who likes fish and cereal? The Glenn is Glenn Fahlstrom, a former owner of Evanston's Davis Street Fish Market. His scallops are toothsome and sweet, his mussels are juicy, and although the fish dishes aren't wildly creative, there's no faulting them. —Nicholas Day

Hagen's Fish Market

5635 W. Montrose | 773-283-1944

$

Monday-thursday 8 am-10 PM, friday-saturday 8 am-midnight, sunday 10 am-8 pm | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

This much-beloved fishmonger has been around since 1946 hawking fresh fish and smoking and frying the typical pantheon of aquarian organisms for takeout. Maybe the sea was angry the first time I stopped by, because I found the breading on the fried items bland, and the flavors of the deep fryer overpowered delicate oysters, smelts, perch, and even stalwart hush puppies. I had better luck with the smoked sable, which was very moist and tender, though the sturgeon was dense, dry, and tough. Still, compared to the average fish shack, Hagen's is well stocked with frozen lobster tails, caviar, and Polish and Scandinavian specialty dry goods. They'll clean, smoke, and/or grind your catch for you too. —Mike Sula

Half Shell

676 W. Diversey | 773-549-1773

$$

LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED | cash only

It's not easy to find a true dive in Lincoln Park, but this cash-only seafood restaurant fills the bill with a low ceiling, a long, crowded bar, and an entrance eight steps below street level. It seems like it's been there forever, serving consistently tasty crab legs, decent shrimp, and raw oysters on the you-know-what. Some prefer the fried fish offerings, served in generous portions with fries. Service has that friendly diner feel. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House

1024 N. Rush | 312-640-0999

$$$

lunch: saturday-sunday; Dinner: seven days | Open Late: every night Till midnight

This sibling to neighboring Gibsons attracts a similarly moneyed crowd. The kitchen produces large portions of fresh seafood in unadulterated preparations: huge crab cakes, classic sides like baked potatoes and creamed spinach, fish dishes—blackened grouper, grilled mahimahi, baked halibut with crabmeat stuffing—and, of course, frog's legs. The decor takes a maritime theme and runs with it—model ships stand on raised shelves, old photos of someone's sea voyage hang on the walls, and with the low ceilings and frequent crowds, you might as well be belowdecks. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Joey's Shrimp House

1432 N. Western | 773-772-1400

$

LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL MIDNIGHT | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

A surprisingly unremarkable effort for two veterans of the Japonais line. It's your standard Chicago shrimp shack with nautical flourishes, offering the typical battered swimming species (catfish, shrimp, frog legs, etc) deep-fried to dull uniformity and sold by weight. The one absurdly high-ticket item, a tiny $10 crab-cake sandwich, was full of filler and overwhelmed by its bun and dressings. A liquor license is expected any day now. —Mike Sula

Kingfisher

5721 N. Clark | 773-506-7014

$$$

LUNCH: TUESDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SUNDAY BRUNCH | OPEN LATE: MONDAY, FRIDAY-SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

Peter McCarthy made a name for himself with the Jefferson Park storefront Pier 5736. Now he's brought his affordable seafood to the north side, moving into the turreted Edgewater building that formerly housed Arkadash Cafe. He's brought his fans with him too, judging from the packed room, which has the feel of a supper club, from the white tablecloths to the older crowd to the large menu. Each entree comes with a salad, potato, and vegetable, making this a good deal despite prices mostly in the $20s. Green salads were served overchilled, but the dressings are house-made. Shrimp bisque, available along with chowder and a soup of the day, was overly floury, but the fish hit the sweet spot, unfancified walleye and a terrific rainbow trout accompanied by delicious sweet potatoes. There's a long list of appetizers including oysters in various preparations, and an even longer list of fish, shellfish, steaks, and curveballs like ribs and chicken Vesuvio, so there's something for everyone. Service is friendly and adept, and Kingfisher is BYO while awaiting a liquor license. On Sundays there's an affordable plated brunch, and currently there's a nightly special: the chef's choice of fish with salad, potato, and vegetable for $15. —Kate Schmidt

Lawrence's Fisheries

2120 S. Canal | 312-225-2113

$

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: 24 HOURS EVERY DAY | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

In the shadow of a trestle bridge spanning the Chicago River, this family-run fried seafood emporium has been around since 1971, and its rickety steps show it. Inside there's a wealth of options: fried shrimp, scallops, frog legs, catfish, perch, cod, oyster, clam strips, popcorn shrimp, and something called "seafood nuggets," all served with your choice of house-made cocktail or hot sauce. All are available by the half-pound or pound or with fries, coleslaw, and a dinner roll. If you're not up for fried, there's boiled shrimp, several salads, and excellent gumbo. —Kate Schmidt

Shaw's Crab House

21 E. Hubbard | 312-527-2722

$$$

Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open Late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Shaw's is frequently packed despite inconsistent food and service and high prices. The classic 40s-style room, with tile floors and dark wood paneling, is inviting if somewhat cramped, and the adjoining bar is handsome. The professional staff cordially serves daily specials; a global assortment of oysters on the half shell ranges from Prince Edward Island Malpeques to British Columbia Malspinas. The oyster bar—there's also sushi—is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with a scaled-down menu, a more casual atmosphere, and live music. The lobster roll comes highly recommended. Two private party rooms accommodate groups of up to 80. —Laura Levy Shatkin

El Veneno Mariscos

1024 N. Ashland | 773-252-7200

$$

Lunch, Dinner: seven days | BYO

Don't be put off by the name: the only poisonous seafood at El Veneno Mariscos is the dried pufferfish among the marine paraphernalia decorating this small storefront specializing in fish and shellfish estilo Nayarit—that is, in the style of the Maryland-size state on Mexico's west coast. Crunchy whole tortillas with fiery salsa, also typical of the region, and complimentary marlin ceviche tostadas got our meal off to a great start. After that, my favorite cold choice was la Copa Veneno, a giant seafood cocktail of light chock-full of shrimp, octopus, oysters, and other goodies, crowned by avocado. It was one of the best I've had, though I'd recommend a smaller cocktail if you plan to eat anything else. We were very happy with two house specialties designed for sharing: chapuzon del mar, a platter of tender octopus, oysters, and shrimp with sweet slivered red onions in a piquant russet-colored sauce, and a half order of charola de langostino, slightly tough but tasty shell-on langostinos bathed in butter and spices. Other options range from first-rate fish tacos to a whole stuffed lobster for two to a blow-out dinner for six. My only regret: several items were not available, among them a Nayarit fish stew called zarandeado and camarones momias ("mummy shrimp," stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon). —Anne Spiselman

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